How Sita Ram Goel combined pristine scholarship with fearlessness in a spirit of cultural and national service.
The path of the deserved downfall of the Times of India from an alleged newspaper to a glossy soft porn pamphlet is strewn with substantial amounts of Marxist Parthenium (infamously known in Karnataka as Congress Gida or Congress plant). It might sound unbelievable now but on 2 October 1986, the Times of India published a long, angry letter signed by the same bunch of Left-Liberal/Marxist distorians. The reason for their Red anger: a news item published in the same rag on 15 September 1986 reporting that a committee had been formed to liberate Sri Krishna Janmasthan at Mathura. The letter of "protest" is completely along expected lines accusing the paper and the committee of communalism and the rest. Here are the names of the signatories to the letter: Romila Thapar, Muzaffar Alam, Bipan Chandra, R. Champaka Lakshmi, S. Bhattacharya, Harbans Mukhia, Suvira Jaiswal, Shireen Ratnagar, M.K. Palat, Satish Saberwal, S. Gopal and Mridula Mukherjee. Sounds familiar? Some of these pathetic eminences were later hauled up by the Allahabad High Court during the course of the arguments in the Ayodhya case.
However, what is important is what happened after the letter was published. Entirely consistent with its brand of "journalism," the Times of India did not publish a single rejoinder by scholars who challenged Romila Thapar and her club of Stalinist distorians. After about two weeks, it unilaterally declared that the controversy was closed.
That was when Sita Ram Goel swung into action. He not only wrote an exhaustive and scholarly rebuttal that delineated the history of the Keshavadeva Temple at Mathura which Aurangzeb had so heartlessly demolished, he also provided unassailable evidence why Aurangzeb had done so.
Among other qualities, Sita Ram Goel's dogged persistence is worth emulating and imbibing. Five years later, he combined his writings on Ayodhya, the Muslim history of medieval India and other topics in his magnum opus, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, in two volumes. For a full discussion of the Keshavadeva Temple, see Chapter 3 of the second volume.
Then he took the battle directly to the Marxist turf. The moment the volumes were published, Sita Ram Goel sent a copy to Romila Thapar with a covering letter. It makes for delicious reading. This is how he addresses Romila Thapar. [Emphases added]
I have posed a questionnaire for the school of historians which you lead. Please turn to pp. 438-441 of my recently published book (Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Volume II: The Islamic Evidence), a copy of which is...sent to you by registered post.
You may also read pp. 70-103...which also discuss the position of your school.
I am drawing your attention to these pages so that your school does not plead ignorance of them while maintaining silence. Of course, you are free to ignore the questionnaire as coming from a person who has had no standing in the academic world. I, however, feel that there are many people still left in this country who care for truth more than for position.
Expectedly, Romila Thapar replied in a tone reeking of the turbid haughtiness that comes from being a courtier of a political family.
As regards the issues raised in the questionnaire included in your book, you are perhaps unaware of the scholarly work on the subject discussed by a variety of historians of various schools of thought. May I suggest that for a start, you might read my published lectures entitled, Cultural Transaction and Early India.
Undaunted, here's what Goel wrote back:
I wish you had refrained from striking the pose of superiority which has been for long the hallmark of your school of historians. It does not go well with academic discipline....May I request you not to suggest any further reading of your stuff? You threaten to do so when you use the words "for a start" while recommending your present pamphlet. I am pretty familiar with the patent lore. ..your pamphlet has added nothing to my knowledge or perspective. The method of selecting facts and floating fictions is very well known to me. Christian missionaries have done far better with lesser fare.
And then he follows it up by launching a brutal fusillade that thoroughly bulldozes the Communist pamphleteering done by Romila's gang in the guise of writing history. In retrospect, it also provides us a glimpse of the period: academic and institutional dictatorship which not only tolerated no opposition but brooked no disagreement even. When we contrast that with the present, it is clear that we live in far freer times, almost a period of luxury.
At any rate, the following excerpt from Sita Ram Goel's response to Romila Thapar is highly instructive and inspiring to say the least. Emphases added.
The Questionnaire which I have addressed to you was framed in a particular context. In your letter published in The Times of India dated October 2, 1986, you had stated that handing over of Sri Rama's and Sri Krishna's birthplaces to the Hindus, and of disused mosques to the Muslims raises the question of the limits to the logic of restoration of religious sites. How far back do we go? Can we push this to the restoration of Buddhist and Jain monuments destroyed by Hindus? Or of the pre-Hindu animist shrines? In my book I have welcomed the statement and said that the question can be answered satisfactorily only when we are prepared to face facts and a sense of proportion is restored.
I have gone ahead and compiled historical and theological data about Islamic iconoclasm from whatever Islamic sources I could lay my hands on during the last four years. More may follow as I get at more of this source material. In an earlier volume I have provided, in a preliminary survey, a list of around two thousands Muslim monuments which are known to stand on the sites of and/or have been built with the materials of Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jain temples. The list is likely to get enlarged as I continue to look into more archaeological reports.
I have also compiled a list of Buddhist and Jain monuments supposed to have been destroyed or usurped by this or that Brahmanical sect, and Jain temples functioning at what were Brahmanical places of worship at earlier dates. I am seeking your help to enlarge the list of Buddhist and Jain monuments which were destroyed by those whom you call Hindus. Your writings and statements over the years go to show that you specialise in this subject. What I am looking for in particular is the Hindu theology which inspires acts of intolerance. I expect you to guide me to it...
My Questionnaire is not at all a challenge issued in a spirit of combat. It is only an appeal that sweeping statements should now yield place to hard facts so that we know precisely as to who did what, when, where, and under what inspiration. We should be in a position to compare the record of Islamic iconoclasm with that of Hindu iconoclasm, and draw fair conclusions regarding the character and role of the two religions...
Incidentally, I have not been able to find anything relevant to the context in Epigraphia Indica. XXVIII.1 which is mentioned in footnote 14 on page 18 of your pamphlet... Is it a printing mistake? Kindly give me the correct reference so that I may examine the incident and credit it to your account if it is not already in my list. I hope it is not a case of strong language alone.
Finally, I suggest that all cases of Brahmanical rulers building or endowing Buddhist and Jain temples, and Buddhist and Jain rulers doing the same for Brahmanical temples, should also be compiled for obtaining a total picture of the religious scene. You are very prompt in pointing out the few cases where Hindu temples were endowed or built under Muslim patronage, whenever the large-scale destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims is brought to your notice. Why do you always fail to point out the numerous cases of Brahmanical patronage of Buddhism and Jainism, while listing the few cases of Brahmanical persecution? If a few cases of Muslim patronage can atone for large-scale Islamic iconoclasm, the numerous cases of Brahmanical patronage should be able to do the same for a few cases of Brahmanical persecution. I hope I am not illogical.
That was how this eminent Left-Liberal bully was ground to dust. Sita Ram Goel notes with sadness that he did not receive "even an acknowledgement of this letter from Professor Thapar, leave alone any comments on the points raised by me. Her silence has left me sad."
It will be hugely fruitful and rewarding to compile all such rebuttals and rejoinders by Sita Ram Goel in a single volume so that posterity can be benefitted from such a study of how to combine pristine scholarship with fearlessness and executed in a spirit of cultural and national service.